Birmingham, Alabama, is infested with malevolence. Prejudice and hatred have consumed the minds and hearts of its populace. A murderer, unimaginatively named "Harry the Hacker" by the press, has been carving up citizens with a hatchet. And from the church known as Chapelwood, an unholy gospel is being spread by a sect that worships dark gods from beyond the heavens. This darkness calls to Lizzie Borden. It is reminiscent of an evil she had dared hoped was extinguished. The parishioners of Chapelwood plan to sacrifice a young woman to summon beings never meant to share reality with humanity. An apocalypse will follow in their wake which will scorch the earth of all life. Unless she stops it....
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Note: While this is Book 2 in the series, it reads just fine as a stand alone.
Set roughly 30 years after the events that take place in Book 1 (Maplecroft), Lisbeth Borden is finding retirement lonely and boring. She orders books and papers, adopts feral cats, and keeps up an on going letter to her now dead sister Emma. Then the odd and gruesome events of Birmingham, Alabama catch her eye. Then an Inspector Wolf contacts her and asks her to join him on his investigation into the hatchet murders as he suspects that there is more to it, and also that Lisbeth has had some previous dealings with this particular evil.
While I enjoyed Book 1 more than this book, it was still worthy. Book 1 had all the mystique of the Lizzie Borden historical case tied to it even before I cracked open the cover. This book didn’t come with that mystique, so the story in and of itself had to build the anticipation and it did a great job of it! It’s early 1920s and Prohibition is still firmly in place. In Alabama, we have the True Americans group, which is trying to look a bit more respectable than the Ku Klux Clan and yet still trying to push politics and civil rights in the same direction. Unwed daughters, despite their age, don’t have the legal right to go against their father’s wishes on where to live or work. Essentially, it’s a hotbed of angry, dissatisfied people. Perfect for the summoning of Cthulu monsters.
Inspector Simon Wolf played a very small part in Book 1 but he is front and center here in Book 2. A dear friend of his, a Catholic priest, asks for his aid and he arrives too late to do much for his friend. But he does his best to assist the young lady (Ruth Stevenson) who befriended the priest. He often portrays himself as attached to a police office, but he’s not. No, his office investigates the unusual. Here in Alabama he’s still referred to as the Yank and he has to learn the niceties of Southern hospitality to get along with folks. Wolf is an interesting character being a gentleman, a man who enjoys a good meal, and the owner of a peculiar sense of humor.
Ruth is in her early 20s and is determined to get away from her parents. On the surface, her father is the typical abusive domineering patriarch of the family while Ruth’s mom is this submissive servant of her husband’s orders. She’s tried running away multiple times, but she’s always dragged home. Legally, she can’t go against this because she isn’t married. Her Catholic priest friend helps solve that by finding her a kind (if older) husband. However, Catholics are not accepted by the mainstream Protestant Alabama society. Her father doesn’t approve of Ruth’s elopement to a Catholic Puerto Rican. But what’s more, he joined the Chapelwood church and Ruth was suppose to join too. She’s key to the church’s sinister endeavors. She’s no fainting lily. Betimes she’s scared but she acknowledges that and then pushes on. She also has a strong sense of her personal rights and that makes it ever so much harder for those who want to continue on with their human sacrifices.
As you can see, we have an awesome setting. It’s a slow burn as all the people and aspects get into place. There’s plenty here to intrigue you so I was never bored with the book. Once we have everything in place, the pace picks up. Some of the characters already knew of the human-like monsters, while others have to be brought around to the idea. We even get to spend some time in the head of a former Chapelwood church member who feels the only way to hold off the tide of evil is to take out the designated Chapelwood sacrifices before Chapelwood can sacrifice them appropriately. Yeah. Totally chilling logic. It’s done very well and, as odd as it sounds, I saw why this character did what they did.
This story is a great mix of historical fiction and slow-burn horror. The historical basis made the story that much richer. You can tell the author put quite a bit of research into what was going on in early 1920s Alabama and into understanding how those events and politics and social norms came to be. The horror aspect is not all gore and violence. It’s about things so beyond our understanding that it can push the limits of one’s sanity. It’s not done in some big dramatic way. This isn’t a slasher flick. There’s sound logic and deep thoughts that go into why our characters do what they do, for ultimate good or evil. These characters are complicated and that makes me love or hate them all the more.
Plus the imagery of a 60 year old spinster taking up an axe to save the world is just too awesome!
The Narration: Both our narrators did a great job with regional accents. It required quite a bit of subtlety at times and it made the listening experience worthy. James Patrick Cronin even varied the speeds of his dialogue based on the regional dialect he was employing. Julie McKay’s performance of Ruth was excellent with that Southern sass going on.